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How I finally got healthy, and how you can, too
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I?ve never been much for diets.
Dieting always seemed like a short-term solution with some newfangled technique I didn?t trust. Skip the carbs! Eat like cavemen! Only protein!
I?m a realist. I knew I needed to lose weight and get healthy, but I was never going to stop eating pizza or going out to restaurants. Any diet seemed like a waste of time, because I knew I?d just gain it all back once I inevitably quit. I needed something different, something permanent.
So I didn?t start a diet ? I changed my diet.
I changed the way I ate and when I ate and how I lived. I made little changes, changes I could handle, things I could stick with.
I?m not a doctor or fitness expert. I?m just a guy who decided to get healthy. Here are 50 little things I learned and did to help me lose 50 pounds. It took 18 months, and it?s been just as much a battle keeping it off since, but it?s a battle worth fighting.
1. There was so much I didn?t know. Granola bars and juice aren?t necessarily healthy (both are often loaded with sugar). Some cooking methods are healthier than others. Not all fruits and veggies are created equal. Some parts (like the skin) are healthier, and some fruits have way more sugar than others. Start reading nutrition labels, and pay attention to what you eat. Once you know what you?re about to eat, you?ll think twice before indulging.
2. Prioritize protein over carbohydrates or fats. Fat is about nine calories per gram. Protein and carbs are closer to four. Protein provides more longer-lasting energy than carbs, so prioritizing protein is the best way to be healthy and feel full. Meat is a protein, but so are beans, eggs, dairy, nuts, and seeds.
3. In the right portions, some fats are good for you, like peanut butter, nuts, and omega oils. Your body needs some fat. Don?t fall for the low- or zero-fat options. Many of those foods load up on processed sugars, which start out as carbs but turn into fat when your body doesn?t use them all.
4. Cutting 500 calories out of your day should help you lose about a pound a week starting out. It?s not a perfect equation, and weight loss isn?t linear, but that?s a good number to keep in mind. Five hundred calories might just be one less apple and 30 minutes on the bike. It?s totally doable; you may even be able to cut out 1,000.
5. Keep track of your daily calorie equation. Instead of ?Should I indulge?,? the question is ?What?s the calorie trade-off?? Is your 400-calorie treat worth 30 minutes on the bike? Are you sure you want that 1,500-calorie plate of nachos if it leaves you only 500 calories for the rest of your day? Every decision comes within context.
6. Get help tracking everything. I highly recommend the MyFitnessPal app. For each food, it gives you complete nutritional information: calories, protein, carbs, fat, nutrients, etc. It also gives you a daily calorie goal and tracks your calorie equation each time you eat or exercise. Sheer willpower alone would never have been enough for me. MyFitnessPal kept me honest with myself and kept me motivated and focused.
7. Never, ever shop hungry.
8. Never shop while tired or distracted. Shopping is the beginning of the battle. Shop at peak alertness so you make smart, informed decisions. You can?t cook unhealthy processed food if you never bought it, and it?s much easier to succumb to temptation while tired. It?s way less painful to say no to ice cream at the store than when it?s already in your freezer.
9. Shop often?at least once a week. If you only hit the store every 10 days, all your fresh stuff will be gone by day four and you?ll be left eating boxed stuff that?s much worse for you.
Plan Your Meals
10. Build your meal around a protein and veggies. Carbs can be a side, but not the main feature. Start with the protein and plan from there.
11. Less fruit, more vegetables. Fruits tend to be high in sugar and thus calories. It?s better sugar than candy, but it still adds up. Veggies are usually higher in fiber and fill you up the right way. As long as you don?t douse your veggies in butter or cheese, you can usually eat as many as you want. Still hungry? Have a second helping of veggies.
12. You can do a lot with chicken. You can grill it, bake it, slow-cook it. It can be savory or spicy or sweet. Chicken is almost always a good choice. The same goes for fish. There are a lot of tastes and varieties of fish out there.
13. You don?t need to quit foods entirely ? just watch the portion size. You?re not going to quit pizza forever. Instead, eat two slices and complement it with a salad and veggies. You can still eat your favorite foods, even the less-healthy ones. Just eat less of them and find a healthier balance.
14. Share your favorite indulgences. Make your favorite dessert when you?re having guests over. One piece of pie is okay; a whole pie is not. If you want a special dish you shouldn?t eat too much of, share it with someone so there won?t be any left to indulge.
15. Find new, healthier ways to indulge. Not all healthy foods suck! Honeycrisp apples are one of my favorite foods in the world. A few strawberries or cherries are delightful. Indulging doesn?t have to mean a giant chocolate cake with three scoops of ice cream.
Drink Lots of Water
16. Drink a big glass of cold water first thing in the morning. That wakes up your body and starts your metabolism moving. You burn fewer calories while sleeping.
17. If you feel hungry, try drinking a glass of water. Your body often mistakes thirst for hunger. Drink water right before you eat. You?ll be surprised how much less hungry you?ll feel.
18. Limit other beverages. Soda is high in sugar, but so is juice. Tea and coffee are fine, but don?t load them up with sugar, or you?ll be drinking dessert. If you?re a serial soda drinker or Starbucks disciple, just swapping out your daily drinks for water could be worth a whole pound every week or two.
Always Eat Breakfast
19. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it starts your daily metabolism. Eat protein and fiber so your body starts its day in contentment. Eggs are a good choice, or try something like a Fiber One bar if you?re short on time.
20. Be careful with cereal. Choose cereal with a fiber-to-sugar ratio that?s greater than one. Most kid cereals are basically like starting your day with a bowl of candy.
21. Don?t let hunger build up. Snack more, not less. It?s perfectly fine to eat a small snack every couple hours ? it even keeps your metabolism moving. Snacking frequently is better than feeling starved and eating a massive meal. You?ll lose the battle quickly if you feel hungry all day.
22. Find a few go-to snacks in the 100-to-140-calorie range that are high in protein or fiber. Mine are an apple, banana, cheese stick, beef jerky, or Fiber One bar. Keep your house and workplace stocked, and keep your stash in a specific place so you develop healthy snacking habits.
23. Keep snacks hidden far away ? out of sight, out of mind. Never store that bag of chips within arm?s reach of your couch. Laziness defeats hunger.
24. Buy snack-size foods. Sure, it?s cheaper to buy the whole tub of pretzels. If you have the self-control to count out one serving of 11 pretzels and put the container away, more power to you. I didn?t get where I was by exhibiting self-control. Snack-size packets create a correct portion for you.
25. If you need to munch on something during a movie or game, find a couple options you can eat endless amounts of with little consequence. Popcorn is a good salty treat (but skip the butter), and carrots have a satisfying crunch. Fruits or carbs don?t work, but veggies and hummus are a great option.
26. If you?re not hungry enough to eat an apple, skip the snack. If you are, enjoy your apple.
Brandon Anderson: 2016 Year in Review
Highlights from a year full of firsts, writing and otherwise
Eating at Home
27. Use smaller dishes. Big dishes are practically begging you to fill them up. It?s amazing how much cereal you can eat in a giant bowl. Darker dishes help, too.
28. After serving your food, put the leftovers away in portion-sized containers. Don?t even let seconds become an option.
29. Eat slowly. It takes a while for your brain to catch up to your stomach, so you might be fuller than you think. Let your food settle in before you have dessert. You might actually be full.
30. Don?t eat in front of the TV. It?s just too distracting and makes it too easy to keep shoveling in the food.
Be Prepared for Restaurants
31. Start your meal before going out. Eat a salad or some yogurt at home. You?ll save money and eat far fewer bad calories.
32. Pick a restaurant before leaving home. Find a menu with nutritional information online and decide what to have before you go. It?s much easier to order an unhealthy choice when it?s an impulse.
33. Don?t fill up on the free breadsticks. They might be free, but they aren?t free calories.
34. Turn your restaurant meal into two meals. Most restaurants are happy to offer you well over 1,000 calories as a meal. Instead of scarfing it down, split it with a friend or save the leftovers for tomorrow.
35. Don?t give up your favorite restaurants?adjust your meal choice. Instead of Chick-fil-A waffle fries, get a couple chicken strips with your sandwich. Skip the 300-calorie flour tortilla at Chipotle and get a burrito bowl instead.
36. Consider paying extra for the double-meat portion. Restaurants love to fill you up with cheap carbs, but protein is the best part of the meal for you.
(The Cleveland Show)
Do Some Exercise
37. Remember the equation: If you start with a goal of 2,000 calories for the day and burn off 400 calories exercising, you get to eat 2,400 calories. Exercising is not punishment; it?s giving yourself a reward.
38. Find exercises you can do for 10 or 20 minutes around the house. It?s easy to make excuses if you have to find an hour and go all the way to the gym. Ten minutes of exercise isn?t much, but it?s 10 more than zero.
39. Cleaning counts as exercise. So does doing the dishes or the laundry. A half-hour of cleaning might earn you a snack later. Help your friends move. Get out on the wedding dance floor. Many things can become exercise.
40. Make it so it actually feels weirder not to exercise, like your morning hasn?t started right without it. Let exercise be routine instead of willpower.
41. Use exercise to reward yourself. Pick a Netflix show that you only get to watch while exercising. Watch a 45-minute half of a soccer match while riding a stationary bike. Listen to a podcast while running as a break from screen time and an opportunity to relax and think.
42. Just go for a walk. Going for a walk three times a week for 20 minutes can burn five or more pounds in a whole year.
Set Realistic Goals
43. Be patient. You spent years building up all those bad habits and excess weight. This isn?t going to happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and hard work. Stick with it.
44. Your family or friends may not necessarily appreciate all your hard work. Do this for yourself. Do it because you have decided it?s time to get healthy.
45. Don?t tell everyone, like it?s some sort of New Year?s resolution. You don?t need all that extra pressure from everyone checking in. Tell one or two friends who will push and encourage you. Everyone else will notice soon enough.
46. Don?t ?go on a diet.? Diets are short-term fixes. Make healthy lifestyle changes. Make changes you can stick with next month, next year, forever.
47. Don?t weigh yourself every day. This isn?t a race. Check in once a week to make sure you?re headed in the right direction. The goal is to get healthy; weight loss is just a wonderful side effect.
48. Losing one or two pounds a week is healthy. Much more than that and you?re just burning off water weight that you?ll gain back as soon as you stop your crash course.
49. Don?t compare yourself to others. Everyone is different, and everyone should have different goals. Not everyone can lose 100 pounds in a year. Just measure against yourself.
50. Quit putting this off. Just start. Start today. Start getting healthy.
Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, humor, pop culture, and life musings. Visit the rest of Brandon?s writing archives here.